Setbacks lead to comebacks. Just ask La Roux. A lot of emphasis is being placed on the five-year absence of the UK duo, and it's with natural reason. In music consumer terms, five years without so much as a buzz single is of drought proportions considering La Roux left us after delivering a monsoon of synthesized amazingness on their debut album. Like a choosy, smooth operating lover you can't quit, La Roux played us for five years, dancing on promises that were relayed, and then in turn, delayed. Patience saw us through the whirlwind success of their 2009 self-titled debut, and it was its success that possibly made those five years afterward so grueling.
Not only did touring take up a few years, but their breakout single, "In For The Kill" kept the band coasting well into the noughteens thanks to remixes by Skrillex, samples by The Game, covers by Kelis, and a pre-Kardahsianed Kanye West edging into the official remix to give the duo bushels of cred. Not to mention they had other singles ("I'm Not Your Toy" and their US best-seller, "Bulletproof") that garnered the same amount of attention, and to wrap it all up in bow, in 2011 they scooped up a Grammy as well. Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid threw a bulls-eye on the futuristic spin of all that was '80s synth as La Roux was a love letter to the New Wave era, crackling with pinball whizzing synths and the anticipating potential of bigger, bolder moves, but Jackson became kind of fussy when talks of La Roux's follow-up became dialogue. She noted that she didn't want to do synth music for the "rest of her fucking life". Heck, she had even stopped listening to '80s music. Oh, and yeah, about the synth genre, bad news guys and gals, it's dead, dead, D-E-A-D.
Over-dramatic much, Elly? Eh, just getting warmed up.
In retrospect these blasphemous bites and broods led to the pot boiling over as during the making of their sophomore set, Jackson and Langmaid decided to part ways. The details are juicy, but the gist is the two disassembled due to creative differences, and the results, well, um, let's just say they won't be frolicking in the meadows picking wildflowers while later on making pancakes together. It also lends weight to why the aptly titled, Trouble In Paradise has a grey cloud hovering over its sandy shores and how it is an overtly different affair than the brightly lit La Roux.
Still clouds and their dismal coloration are what make for those stellar humanizing albums, and Trouble In Paradise utilizes the group's (or rather Jackson's) misfortunes and evokes keen vulnerability as it's void of the jumping jack flashiness of its predecessor, but gilded with fluid melodies and poignant lyricism that justify those five elongated years of breakout fame and angst. The album literally bursts with maturation and, most importantly, balance. True, Jackson isn't all straight-laced. The nine-track album does engage in frothy good times that cape David Bowie at his Thin White Duke soul best, as the dizzy disco opener, "Uptight Downtown", exemplifies while the electric ska of "Tropical Chancer" prances nearby as a song No Doubt would've loved to have done. Jackson just struts much more assuredly in these cuts, winking in a sexier direction with tounge n' cheekiness to spare.
As much as Trouble in Paradise vibes like its striking technicolor cover, it also eases out sultry grooves that cite a bygone era of disco's sensual gauzy plushness. Highlights like "Cruel Sexuality" and the lovely palm tree rustle of "Paradise Is You" are loose and breathable, and along with "Uptight Downtown", play in the hands of the reheated disco revival of current. It's difficult to capture aural nostalgia and attempt to spiff it up anew, but Jackson finds that balance to where we might have been there and heard that, but we haven't heard it like this. There are some unique twists, as "Silent Partner" is a thorny seven-minute long spin on the synth carousel that recalls early Kim Wilde at her most bleached blonde poutiness, and prior to it, Jackson embodies the pithy storytelling of Grace Jones on the small smirk of "Sexotheque" as its bounciness masks tale of a romance gone sour thanks to man's preoccupied libido.
Another setback that proved lucrative is Jackson lost her shrill falsetto via illness, though it felt like the end of a career for her, in honesty, she sounds better as the restraint allows for her to not be bogged into synth traps and where her steady tone can flourish above such heavy gloss. Her soprano does sneak in on occasion, but when you hear it now, like on gorgeous closer, "The Feeling", she now coerces with the angels that talked to the Eurythmics way back when.
Trouble In Paradise tussles greatly with its oxymoronic title, with a majority of the songs fizzing and popping in all of its melancholic lyricals. Though it deals with deeper emotions, it's surprisingly more welcoming than La Roux, as looking back, that was an album constructed on robotic indifference. Yet when Jackson decides to draw back, she shuffles in sorrow wonderfully. I'm not just talking about the revealing "Cruel Sexuality", but rather about "Let Me Down Gently", the album's true anchor track, where Jackson confesses valiantly. This song still bewitches as its power balladry takes Jackson into a new field of artistry. It's not the punchy pop one would want these days as it cries many tears and shivers to the core, but its a glimpse at what happened when life and obstacles plowed into Jackson, and how she came out much more the wiser.
Obviously the pressure to live up to first time greatness was the toil to get to Trouble In Paradise, but what a rewarding toil it is, as the album basks in a glowing orb of all that is (and should be) carefully and intelligently constructed pop. As Langmaid's specter still wanders throughout a few of the album's credits (and as My Bloody Valentine producer, Ian Sherwin, co-pilots the remainder of the flight), this album is fully Elly Jackson's craftwork. She's a loner now, and she's dealing with finding her peace, and if this is the first inkling towards her finding truce within the army of her personal self, then paradise might not be so much in trouble after all.
Release date: June 22, 2014